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Smartphone users less smart about protection

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McLEAN, Va. (5/1/12)--One of four teenagers carries a smartphone. Many of these young users wind up broadcasting their whereabouts and other personal information to complete strangers, boosting the chances of becoming victims of identity theft (USAToday.com April 20).

A smartphone is a minicomputer holding quantities of personal information that requires protection, just like computers and laptops. Yet users--including teens--aren't taking simple, necessary steps to protect their smartphones from thieves and hackers.

Identity fraud spiked in 2011, in part because of unsafe social media and mobile behaviors. Smartphone users are about one-third more likely than the general public to be victims of identity fraud. About 7% of smartphone owners were identity-fraud victims last year, according to "Identity Fraud Report: Social Media and Mobile Forming the New Fraud Frontier" by Javelin Strategy & Research (MarketWatch.com March 26).

In April the Federal Communications Commission and the wireless industry announced creation of a stolen smartphone database, rendering stolen devices worthless and preventing thieves from reactivating the devices on other carriers (abcnews.com April 10). The wireless carriers' databases may be completed within six months, but it could take 18 months to complete the integrated database across all carriers.

The Identity Theft Resource Center, San Diego, Calif., recommends these best practices for mobile device users:

  • Password-protect your phone. Use a strong password (numbers, upper- and lower-case letters, and symbols).
  • Enroll in a backup/wiping program. This service backs up information on your smartphone to your home computer and "wipes" your phone if it's lost or stolen.
  • Install security software. Companies offer antivirus, malware, and security software designed for smartphones. Make sure you download software updates.
  • Download apps from trusted sources. Some "bad apps" contain malware (short for malicious software).
  • Don't access financial accounts from free, public networks. Public Wi-Fi hotspots are a prime target for hackers who then have direct access to your mobile device.
For more information, read "ID Theft Tops Consumer Complaint List--Again" in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.